A team of researchers from the University of Manchester and University College London (UCL) have helped scientists around the world to create a new imaging technique that could be used to get a more detailed understanding of the inside of materials, rocks, and the human body.  

Professor Robert Cernik from Manchester’s School of Materials said: “Standard X-ray tomography works by collecting the transmitted beams, rotating the sample and mathematically reconstructing a 3D image of the object. This is only a density contrast image, but by a similar method using the scattered X-rays instead we can obtain information about the structure and chemistry of the object even if it has a nanocrystalline structure.”

The new imaging technique — dubbed Pair Distribution Function-Computed Tomography and developed in conjunction with scientists in the US and Europe — is able to reveal the physical and chemical nano-properties of objects in a non-invasive manner and "relate their distribution in three dimensional space".

Cernik said: “Such relationships are key to understanding the properties of materials and so could be used to look at in-situ chemical reactions, probe stress-strain gradients in manufactured components, distinguish between healthy and diseased tissue, identify minerals and oil-bearing rocks or identify illicit substances or contraband in luggage.”

He added that the new method enables a more detailed image of the object to be built, adding: “For the first time, [we can] separate the nanostructure signals from the different parts of a working device to see what the atoms are doing in each location, without dismantling the object.”